The Initiation of Sarah (1978)

Director: Robert Day

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Certification: 12

Starring: Kay Lenz, Shelley Winters, Tony Bill, Morgan Fairchild, Morgan Brittany, Tisa Farrow, Robert Hays, Kathryn Grant

Opening on a beach-set party, sisters Sarah (Kay Lenz) and Patty's (Morgan Brittany) intentions of having fun are cut short when a stranger interrupts them. As the man tries forcing himself on Patty, something unseen puts an end to the horrifying situation while Sarah looks on. The scene may feel disconnected from the rest of the film, yet it sets up a key aspect of the story - that Sarah has psychic abilities.

After the summer ends, the girls travel to college intent on enjoying sorority life. They're determined to be accepted into the same prestigious sorority, while ignoring what they already know about how different they both are. The girls try overlooking this, with one key scene involving Sarah styling herself under Patty's guidance and starting to feel part of her sister's world, although a phone-call to their mother shatters this illusion. Lenz and Brittany shine best in this sibling relationship, knowing they inhabit different social circles yet trying to ignore those differences.

Patty is accepted into Alpha Nu Sigma, a popular sorority full of mean-girls who look down upon Phi Epsilon Delta, the house which welcomes Sarah. The houses share a long-standing feud, something whose origins nobody has an answer about. The sisters of Phi Epsilon Delta take the abuse until Sarah empowers them to stand-up to their domineering rivals. This leads to a speech against bully Jennifer     Laurence (Morgan Fairchild) that's meant to show how much Sarah has grown, yet the scene instead feels artificial and awkward.

While the titular character shares a charming friendship with the timid Mouse (Tisa Farrow), that's the only relationship she's shown to have with fellow sorority members, as the other sisters feel overlooked. Instead, Sarah becomes manipulated by the mysterious den-mother Mrs Hunter (Shelley Winters), intent on weaponizing the psychic abilities for her own means. This is depicted through intercutting the mundane with the supernatural, showing the difference between sororities.

While a limited budget can inspire creativity in ways to tell the story, some of the choices made here feel the opposite of that. Scenes suddenly end without a resolution, left to be explained in the following scene, while key characters are often forgotten about. By the time a dressed-up Sarah is tormented in-front of her peers, courtesy of a prank her rival orchestrated, this feels like a TV-budget take on Carrie. There's much to enjoy in this made-for-TV film, although it brings to mind stronger alternatives.

The Initiation of Sarah is now available on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video